MACAU - The PBA Grand Slam is the big picture for San Miguel Beer this season.
But heading into Saturday's East Asia Super League Terrific 12 semifinal game, SMB coach Leo Austria wants his players to focus on the Liaoning Flying Leopards.
Austria is convinced that the Flying Leopards' style of play can prepare them for their ultimate goal of winning the franchise's second Triple Crown when they return to Manila for the PBA Governors' Cup.
Game time is at 7 p.m. at the Tap Seac Stadium where the Beermen enjoy some sort of homecourt advantage due to the huge concentration of Overseas Filipino Workers in this area.
Pinoy fans here showed their full support for the Beermen during the group stage play.
SMB repaid the fans by beating the Shenzhen Aviators, 90-76 on opening day, ending the Ryukyu Golden Kings' reign with a 101-92 victory on Thursday.
The Beermen though enter the knockout semifinals as the underdogs considering they won't have two of their starters in June Mar Fajardo and Marcio Lassiter, who are still recovering from their injuries.
Ace playmaker Alex Cabagnot has joined practice here since contracting flu. But he will be a game-time decision, said Austria.
Still, the eight-time PBA champion coach likes to believe his bench players can be relied upon against Liaoning, which will have former LA Lakers guard Lance Stephenson and Tunisian center Salah Mejri taking the lead.
"I gave playing time for the bench and that's what they're waiting for. I told them that even though they are not getting minutes, you have to be in game shape," shared Austria during the press conference Friday that featured the four tournament semifinalists.
Kicking off the knockout Final Four are the Zheijiang Guangsha Lions and the Seoul SK Knights, who will clash at 5 p.m.
Paul Zamar didn't see action against Shenzhen, but he delivered once his number was called against Ryukyu, posting nine points, five rebounds and three assists.
"I'm so happy because some of the players, especially Paul Zamar stepped up," said Austria, the Sairaya, Quezon native.
SMB imports Dez Wells and Lester Prosper will have tough assignments as they defend Stephenson and Mejri, respectively.
But Wells mentioned that he's used to the pressure, having gone through difficulty growing up.
"I don't feel any pressure. If you see how I grew up with the things I've been through, it seasoned me to be in this position and how to handle myself," stressed the 27-year-old Wells.
More importantly, Wells points to his SMB teammates as the key factors in their attempt to advance to the one-game Finals.
"When I need to, I can lean on these guys," referring to Chris Ross, Prosper, Terrence Romeo, Arwind Santos and Christian Standhardinger. "If you see the first game, Terrence Romeo hit a lot of big shots. Chris makes a lot of big defensive plays. So those guys have a championship pedigree."
Stephenson, meanwhile, said he's taking each game like it's a championship match. Moreover, Lakers star LeBron James encouraged him to "be better" in his new basketball venture.
"Every game that I play, I approach it as a championship game," the 29-year-old NBA veteran said. "When I'm on the floor, I want to win because my goal is to learn from my teammates so we'd be ready for the competition (in China)."